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Report: Kyrie Irving to Make Season Debut for Nets vs. Pacers After Clearing Protocol

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 3, 2022

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving will make his 2021-22 NBA season debut on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers.

Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic reported the news after Irving sat out the first 35 games of the Nets' schedule.

The 29-year-old Duke product opted against COVID-19 vaccination, which made him ineligible to play in home games at Barclays Center because of New York City's vaccine mandate for indoor arenas.

In October, Nets general manager Sean Marks announced the team decided to move forward without Irving until he was eligible to become a "full participant":

"Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant. Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability. It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice. Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction. We are excited for the start of the season and look forward to a successful campaign that will make the borough of Brooklyn proud."

Brooklyn's stance changed in mid-December when Marks confirmed Irving would begin the process of getting ready to return for select games as the team worked to overcome injuries and COVID-19-related absences.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ohm Youngmisuk reported the seven-time All-Star would remain ineligible for home games as well as road matchups against the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors.

Irving has maintained throughout the process that he's not anti-vaccine, but rather making the decision he felt was the best for himself.

"I am going to just continue to stay in shape, be ready to play, be ready to rock out with my teammates and just be part of this whole thing," he said in October. "This is not a political thing; this is not about the NBA, not about any organization. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do."

While his vaccination status will remain a hot-button topic of conversation, especially if NYC's mandate remains in place as the playoffs move closer, there's little doubt the 2011 first overall pick will provide a boost to the Nets when he's on the floor.

Irving averaged 27.0 points, 6.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 2.8 threes and 1.4 steals across 74 appearances for Brooklyn over the previous two seasons.

It'll probably take him some time to get back to that level of production since he hasn't played since June, but there's still plenty of time to find top form before the playoffs.

If Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden are all healthy and active for the postseason, the Nets could very well emerge as the NBA championship favorite. 

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